We cannot compare a crisis like Covid-19 to anything. But there are some personal attitudes we can nourish to help us better cope with the situation we are facing today. I can’t help but notice how some of those attitudes are precisely the ones we use in realms of open water sea kayaking, SUP touring, high mountain ski alpinism and trekking. I just want to share some of these attitudes with you in hope that they will create some perspective and in that sense help in these challenging times.
Difference between being relaxed and negligent
I am writing this because I noticed that now in Croatia, on March 19th, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic people are casually chatting in bars, running together shoulder to shoulder in running clubs, crowding the kid’s parks, posting photos of parties and barbeques at home. I see where that is coming from. If you are not on social media and don’t read the newspapers – you won’t be able to say that there is a crisis going on. Even if you had the virus you wouldn’t see it either. At least for a few days.
I am sure it is like this in many other places around the world. Italy was probably like that, too. I am assuming that people just need a sense of perspective. Here is a call out to all adventure folk with some with attitudes that I developed in the outdoors and that work for me now in the midst of this crisis as I balance managing a company, spending time with my family and making sense of what is going on.
The mirror to see ourselves
Frank M. Snowden who wrote a book about the relationship between epidemics a society titled ‘Epidemics and Society: From Black Death to Present‘ said in his recent interview in the New Yorker:
‘Epidemics are a category of disease that seem to hold up the mirror to human beings as to who we really are. That is to say, they obviously have everything to do with our relationship to our mortality, to death, to our lives. They also reflect our relationships with the environment—the built environment that we create and the natural environment that responds. They show the moral relationships that we have toward each other as people, and we’re seeing that today.’
I find a connection between epidemics and the outdoors. The definition of adventure by Meriam Webster is ‘the encountering of risks’. Google defines it as ‘an unusual and exciting or daring experience’.
An open island crossing. Getting to the top of an Alpine peak. Skiing down the gnarly couloir. All these situations entail dwelling comfortably in risk-prone environments. Those environments ‘hold a mirror’ so we se who we really are. To be comfortable in those high-risk environments requires more than just a technical skillset. It is very much about having a certain attitude and approach. It isn’t about what happens but how you react to situations and how you approach people.
Here are six attitudes I have developed in the outdoors. The ones that help me today to go through this crisis we’re having:
1) Focus on the solution
In rock climbing, we talk about the ‘crux’ – the hardest, most technical part of the climb. To simplify it, if you go past the crux, everything else should be easier. If you are crimping two pinches with your fingers, smearing the feet on a vertical rock and need to do a big move to the next hold, then your window of opportunity is very narrow. If just for a split second, you move the focus away from the move you are making and away from the hold you are aiming for, you will fall. If you focus narrowly on that one thing that will make you go past this situation you’re in, you will make it.
We have crux moments in our daily lives all the time. Some are easier and some are global pandemics. Covid-19 virus pandemic is the most challenging and most pressing crisis people faced in a while. It appears that climate crisis and poverty around the world is equally challenging but obviously not as pressing to the developed world. The climbing experience will have it that you need to discern what is the solution and do just that. Focus on anything else and you will fail. It is or civic duty to be informed and have an opinion about what the solution is.
2) Safety before anything
In avalanche rescue training we cover incident management to a great extent. Avalanche rushes down 100km/h and covers one of your fellow skiers. What do you do? Before rushing in and approaching a casualty to do search protocol you make sure you and others are safe. There is no point in rushing down towards an avalanche-swept skier if there is a risk of another avalanche that will wipe out the whole group. If you do that and get swept away there may not be anyone around to help you. Plus, now have a group of people that need rescue.
You need to be safe and only then you can move to do the next thing. In a crisis like today, stay at home. Reduce your social contacts otherwise, you may be triggering another ‘avalanche’. You will be of greater use to the economy and society if you and everyone else around you are healthy now.
3) Live in the moment and recalibrate
In sea kayak and SUP touring we make decisions based on information we have available: maps, tidal charts, weather forecasts, group skill, and fitness assessments to name a few. Forecasts may be wrong, skills fade, things can happen. In the course of the trip, the wind can change strength and direction, the person can get injured. Or you have forgotten your coffee machine. Situations of varying austerity. Live in the moment and perceive what is happening around you. You process the new information, realign the plan to your best knowledge and keep on paddling.
In today’s epidemic, things are changing so fast that it is crazy. For someone running an adventure company, the last two months were really like riding a roller coaster and we are still upside down. Making a decision is akin to designing a paddling trip based on the weather forecast from a week ago, all happening in a paddling area you have never been to and don’t have a map for (this doesn’t happen in real life really). The scale is different, but the principle is the same: take in facts as you move, make sense out of them and recalibrate your plan. Move on. Repeat until you get to the end of the tunnel.
4) Make people feel the support
A person has capsized in cold water and injured a shoulder. This can be a minor incident or it can turn into havoc. It can be a Thanksgiving dinner anecdote or a crippling experience that colors the memory in black. Incidents can happen at sea, in the mountains, and on rock and they call for an autocratic approach to handle the situation with skill and bring people to safety. Whatever happens, the only thing the people will remember is how you made them feel: safe and confident or afraid, confused and lost. They may remember facts differently based on how they felt at the time and after the occurrence. Emotions rule.
A friend in need is a friend indeed. More than ever, it is today we need to work closely with our business partners, clients, suppliers, neighbors, and friends. Communicate clearly as situations change and approach situations with kindness towards people around you. Be compassionate to others. You know what they are going through because you are going through it, too.
5) Work together
A kayaking group out in the open water island hopping is one unit. You move at the pace of the slowest person. Always. There is no option to leave someone behind in the outdoors. We are stronger as a group and it is there that we are reminded on how we have to work together.
Here I will just quote Bruce Aylward who lead W.H.O. mission to China: ‘We have to think that we have to work together as a human species to be organized to care for one another, to realize that the health of the most vulnerable people among us is a determining factor for the health of all of us, and, if we aren’t prepared to do that, we’ll never, ever be prepared to confront these devastating challenges to our humanity.’
6) Move your limits
Paddling to Inishtrahull, an island north of Ireland, with the 10-knot tide with unpredictable direction and a Force 5 winds is pretty much a definition of someone’s terror zone. It can become your comfort zone if you work on moving your limits and acquire skills: navigation, personal kayaking skills, rescues, VHF, first aid and a lot more. Outdoors teaches us that whatever the obstacle, you can get good enough to go over it. It just calls for moving your limits one step at a time.
You can lose your job or you can take a financial drawback. You can lose a family member. You can sustain an injury that keeps you away from what you love to do. You can be locked into your apartment. You may have miscalculated the amount of toilet paper and flour you needed. It can be your terror zone or your comfort zone. Whatever the difficulty is – you can overcome it. You can fall back on your experience from the kayaking, SUP touring, alpinism or ski touring and realize you are just being called to move your limits. That’s ok. You got it.
We go kayaking and SUP touring to remote islands.
We climb and ski steep slopes.
We hike for hours in the wildest terrains imaginable.
Why do we go there? Because, ironically, it is in those remote places that we feel more human than in the man-made profit-maximizing digitally fueled world.
The waves, the mountains and the rock faces are our churches.
It is there that we we are reminded of who we really are and what our place in nature is.
It is there that we build approaches and attitudes that make us who we are.
It is there in remote outdoors that we approach the edge of our comfort zone and watch the abyss, only to learn that is not that bad. It is not an abyss we are looking at. It was just a dark cloud (fear) that was masking another peak we can now go and explore.
The roots and the leafs
Carl Young once said:
No tree, it is said, can grow to heaven unless its roots reach down to hell.
Our ‘roots’ have been to the mountains, the islands, the open waters, the steep cliff bases. The same roots have now collectively been to the Covid-19 virus pandemic. The journey we have been on (and are still on) will change us for better. We will appreciate what we have. We will get a perspective on the connections to people that surround us. We will discern what is precious.
We are being tested and stretched now. Much more than we have ever been, perhaps. That is how ‘trees’ grow. The outdoors have taught me to 1) Keep my focus on the solution, 2) Stay safe, 3) Live in the moment and recalibrate, 4) Connect with the people around me.
As I do all that, I notice how I am moving my limits and how my ‘tree branches’ are growing higher with every hardship.
The difference between us and our obstacles is always smaller than the difference between us and our potential. Outdoor adventures and crises like this remind us of that. We don’t have any other options but to tackle it and so we will.
Long live the adventure.
‘‘Conversations’ isn’t necessarily about the things that we talked about on our trips. It is about all the topics that you wanted to know about or ones that we promised we’ll look into. It’s about that constant pursuit of Croatia’s and region’s adventures, secrets, insights, history, and lifestyle. It’s about enabling you to dive behind the obvious and get the best of your adventures – challenging the status quo and celebrating cultural and natural diversity.